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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sam Sotha bounces back from disgrace

Sam Sotha bounces back from disgrace

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Sam Sotha

LESS THAN six weeks after his dismissal as Director-General of the Cambodian Mine

Action Center (CMAC), Sam Sotha has returned to public office.

In a political comeback considered unthinkable just weeks ago, Sotha confirmed on

Sep 12 that he had been appointed by Royal Decree to the post of Prime Minister Hun

Sen's "Advisor on CMAC Affairs and Land Mine Victim Assistance".

Coming just weeks after his removal from CMAC following months of allegations linking

him to financial management irregularities and outright fraud, Sotha was exuberant

by what he calls his "redemption and recognition" by Hun Sen.

"Hun Sen, [Minister of Council of Ministers] Sok An and other friends in the

Government, National Assembly and the Senate gave me a lot of support," Sotha

said of his CMAC trials and subsequent dismissal in a Sep 13 interview with the Post

. "Without that support I would have just gotten on a plane and gone back to

the US."

Handling a 40-page project proposal for a new organization designed to address the

needs of Cambodian's land mine victims, Sotha says he's committed to improving the

lot of what he describes as "the most deprived and vulnerable people on earth".

"In Cambodian society amputees are considered mentally and physically useless

by their families and society as a whole," Sotha said. "They're isolated

and abandoned by society.... My heart breaks for these people."

Sotha is in the planning stages of establishing a government-funded "national

amputees organization" that would coordinate the activities of the assorted

11 NGOs that assist in rehabilitation and training of amputees.

"If we work together, we can maximize our resources," Sotha explained of

his vision of a national amputees organization.

Although admitting he has yet to submit his proposal to the Prime Minister for approval,

Sotha insists that the initial concept has been received enthusiastically by Hun

Sen.

"The Prime Minister is keen to start [a new amputees assistance organization],"

Sotha said. "He himself is disabled in one eye."

In his role of advisor on CMAC affairs, Sotha indicated that he was ready to advise

Hun Sen on reducing the number of foreign technical advisers (of which there are

currently 60) employed by the demining agency.

"I've told the Prime Minister that CMAC needs international staff, but a smaller

number," Sotha explained, adding "We need foreign staff who are willing

and able to work together ... that's the bottom line."

While insisting that he was grateful to be given an opportunity to "serve the

mine victims of Cambodia", Sotha displayed some bitterness toward the "system

failure" he holds responsible for his dismissal as CMAC's Director-General.

"CMAC has many international staff and UNDP coordination and supervision, so

what happened ... the system failed," he said of the litany of scandals that

erupted within CMAC beginning earlier this year. "CMAC wasn't the Sam Sotha

Organization.... Everyone needs to be responsible [for CMAC's problems]."

Sotha extends the principal of collective responsibility to the results of a KPMG

audit of CMAC finances, due to be released at the end of September, and widely predicted

to link him to financial irregularities during his tenure as Director-General

"I don't care about that," Sotha said of the KPMG audit. "Everyone

should be responsible for that."

Instead, Sotha looks to his Hun Sen advisory position as proof positive of his integrity.

"The Prime Minister has brought me to him," Sotha said happily. "I'm

ready again to serve the people."

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